(Photos: Author, Mr. Gasket, Shamrock Chop Shop) Well, that didn’t quite go to plan. And I’m pretty sure I know why. I had to go and say nice things about the 1980 Cadillac Fleetwood Formal the other day. I praised it for being, if nothing else, dead-nuts reliable, predictable, and dependable. Care to guess what all went down not twelve hours after I wrote all of that up? Oh…friends, let me assure you, the Cadillac certainly lived up to the “War Car” name, just not in the way I intended it to. That 22-foot-long half-Bondo mistake decided that now would be the perfect time to go from Ol’ Reliable to it’s truest form: an absolutely detestable, disgusting, rotted hulk of a Cadillac that needs to be crushed if nobody is interested in using it as part of a man-made earthen dam. Here’s the story of how the Cadillac Limo fared during it’s first (and possibly only) King of the Heap event.
Prior To Race Day
As with most things that have tended to get me way over my head in trouble, it all started with an undone belt. The alternator belt, to be precise. It was obvious that the belt wasn’t doing jack-squat anymore…it flopped around on the pulleys like a shoestring hope and prayer, but it wasn’t charging the battery, a fact backed up by the multimeter. Given that I had plenty of juice in the battery, however, I decided I’d just haul the car to the local parts store and get a properly measured belt instead of guessing and making a 25-mile loop to the store and back. This didn’t work out well. About seven miles into the fifteen-mile trip to the store, the belt magically turned to dust and I had to make a call: continue to the store, in the misty dark, at night, or go home? I pressed on, and was rewarded for my efforts with a freshly steamed Cadillac in the parking lot of the local O’Reilly’s. After much digging for a belt that would fit tightly on the modified alternator loop, it became apparent that the alternator fan was chewing on the belt. Ultimately, with the help of store clerk Kenneth, the alternator fan was removed and the pulley reinstalled. Crisis, averted. That should be the end of it, right?
With the heavy fog still lingering in the air and the first small showers of a promised rainy day starting to fall, I pulled onto the NCM Motorsports Park grounds well before seven in the morning, confident that the day was going to be amazing. Soon, the other members of the team arrived: Scott, the guy who has been responsible for many of the new vehicle reviews I’ve done in the past year; Sean, a former co-worker of Scott’s who is now at a different dealership; and Chris, a Holley employee who worked with UPCG during his days behind the counter. Chris was a last-minute addition, as another team member had to bow out due to a scheduling conflict. Prior to this, none of them had driven the car, and only Scott had ridden in the limo for any amount of time. In addition, Chris had never driven on a road course, let alone in a $500 limo that had all the suspension of a jiggly cheesecake. But no matter…as the showers seemed to let up, they got their rental helmets and we got in line to get our paperwork sorted and to get our sponsorship decals and transponder for the car. That went well. But the moment that we went outside to sticker up the limo, Mother Nature started in with one of her many rainy fits of the day. With Scott manning a microfiber towel, we rushed to get everything on the car, including the “King of the Heap” windshield banner. By the time that was done the first of many towels was soaked and so was I. Great start. But part of the fun of KOTH is embracing the suck, so I didn’t get down about this at all.
After a driver’s meeting that was full of the usual hilarity, centered primarily around team names and improv whiteboard sketches, we booked out to get our cars lined up for the grid. Except for the 1/8th mile drag race, everything was going to be run from a grid system, and the Cadillac was the first car in the run. Since I knew the car best and have had it at triple-digit speeds before, I made the call that I’d hit the road course first, then we’d trade off…road course, drag race, cool off, repeat.
Once everything was ready, the first seven cars were lined up for the road course (with the big black barge looking mighty royal leading a pack that included a very ragged out C4 Corvette, a Mitsubishi Eclipse, and an LT-1 powered Buick Roadmaster), and my new neck collar choking the hell out of me underneath my new helmet, we were cut loose and I guided the U.S.S. d’Elegance out onto NCM’s East Course. Without question, the Cadillac was the biggest turd on acceleration, and it’s top speed wasn’t great, either. But the true test of driver courage was due to the large amounts of standing water on the track, including a sizeable pond at the turn leading into the downhill “Sinkhole” corner. The Eclipse spun off into the grass at that corner, and the second I saw it, I clamped hard on the binders. The Uniroyal tires were gripping well enough, but I was afraid that if the Cadillac got loose or hydroplaned, that recovery was going to be lengthy and probably ugly. But truthfully, I wasn’t sure if the car was going to break loose at all…even on my third lap, when I was actively trying to drift the series of turns before coming out onto the straight, the Cadillac didn’t want to slide an inch. It body-rolled like a mother, but it’s weight kept it planted to the surface. On the drag run, walling up against the torque converter rewarded me with a choking, pissed-off Quadrajet. Even cleaned out, even with a brand-new fuel filter, the carburetor just wasn’t having any of my bullshit.
During the driver’s meeting, Track Operations manager and KOTH overlord Matt Busby was very clear that oil on the asphalt wasn’t going to be tolerated. Now, being a race filled with dirt-cheap shitbox cars, a drop here and a drop there wasn’t going to be cause for alarm. Unfortunately, right about the time Sean went for his road-course laps (third driver out of four), it became clear that the Cadillac was spilling more than just “a” drop of something. Once Sean returned from his drag run, we pulled the limo into the paddock and went underhood. The breather port on the driver’s side valvecover had a small trickle of oil coming out, thanks to the unreal blow-by from the 368, so we cleaned up the spill and zip-tied a rag around the base of the vent to collect any more stray oil, then jammed Chris into the car and sent him to the line for the next track session.
A couple of minutes later Busby found me and informed me that we didn’t fix the problem and that the Cadillac was leaving oil puddles. I agreed to park the car until we figured out what was going on, and we pulled Chris straight to paddock after his road-course laps. Once we opened the hood, the situation became apparent quickly: the power steering pump, which I hadn’t attended to since May and had leaked like a strainer, somehow found enough oil to barf out of the dipstick cap. The only thing that was going to address that leak was a replacement oil pump and lines, and with the skies turning darker and darker, I bit the bullet as team captain and shut down racing operations.
The rest of the day was a mixture of thunderstorms and biblical rain, then watching several teams kick the shit out of their cars on the autocross course. In particular, a V8-powered Lincoln LS, a Mazda RX-8 and a Chevrolet Aveo all seemed to go for broke, with the Lincoln singing a 7,000 RPM song to the Clark Circle neighborhood while the RX-8 put on drift clinics until the rotary threatened to spit out a metallic Dorito through the fender. The autocross relay got scrubbed due to the rains, and the show was wrapped up before sunset. At the end of day meeting, our prayers were not answered as nobody wanted to claim the Cadillac (hmm, can’t understand why…) and more-or-less unscathed from it’s adventure, I drove the Fleetwood back home.
Sean, Scott and Chris all seemed to be over the moon and elated about their time at KOTH, and I’m glad that I was able to introduce them to road course racing in a fairly non-intimidating way. Once the Cadillac pooped the bed, they even started discussing what the next cheap car should be, with some solid ideas ranging from a MN-12 era Ford product to a cheap Fox Mustang to all sorts of ideas. I, on the other hand, spent the rest of the afternoon boiling. With a dead duck of a car and nothing to drive, I was feeling let down and frankly, a bit hostile. I didn’t expect the Caddy to win anything, but I didn’t expect something so simple and stupid to sideline the car. If the engine had blown, there would be a picture of me standing on the smoldering wreck, celebrating. Instead, a stupid leak ended the day. Even with the fans of the car voicing their pleasure at it showing up, even though it was the only car driven to and from the track, I hate that the racing portion ended the way it did.
Will we do another KOTH event? Maybe. Will we do it in the Cadillac? Probably not. Honestly, I’m ready to personally pull the lever to smash it into a flat bastard. I’ll save the tires for something else, and I may save the wheels to flip on eBay, but after that, the Cadillac has served it’s purpose. The engine is pathetic, the driver’s floor is fully missing, and we managed to flex the body bad enough that it started to shed Bondo. The limo is done. What will replace it? That’s yet to be seen…